There is much in the news these days that is, in fact, no news at all to women and to most men. The cauldron of sexual assault of women and sometimes men mostly by powerful men and, once in a while by a powerful woman, is boiling over and, thus impossible not to see. Everyone can see the mess it is making as more and more (mostlly) women come forward to say “Me too.” I do not want to ignore the experiences of young boys, also molested by adult men, but I also don’t want the experiences of women to disappear from view one more time. There is not a single woman that I know who has not been sexually harrassed multiple times and I doubt that one exists, although I would be happy to meet her and learn her secret. I fear that her secret would be simply that she does not remember and shortly thereafter she would.
I can not tell you how many times I have heard these stories or sudden recollections in my therapy office. Nor can I tell you the many self-damaging techniques, such as cutting, anerexia, bulimia and sexual disorders, I have seen used to hide the memories.
In fact, the beginning of feminist therapy involved a tidal wave of these recollections, but where have they been hiding all these years since? In the psychothherapy office, where privacy and confidentiality rule the day. One other woman knows your secret and she will never tell. This is one of the disadvantages of practicing so privately, although it does serve to create a sort of safety. Elder abuse and child abuse must be reported by many licensed practitioners. Women are considered adults and, therefore, able to report themselves.
Are there no consequences for this gift of “scontingent” adulthood? I won’t list all the possible consequences of saying “no” or reporting an attack. We all know them too well. I will not list all the sources of this learning. We also know them well.
In my long career, I have seen it more times than I can remember. It was an entitlement of academic men when I first became a professor. Some retained their wives and others divorced and married a much younger student. There were only the beginning of female professors and, if you wanted to have a career and receive tenure, you did not want to anger your male colleagues. I will ask why it has taken fifty years for there to be enough of a groundswell from enough celebrities to break a taboo that feminists could not. And how long will it last or will it’s impactbe invisiblized, as so much women’s speech.
When I became a therapist and an academic, many of my male colleagues were living with or had married their favorite clients, divorcing the former wife. Many of the male professors kept cots in their office in case a use for them should arise and it did. In fact, in my years in graduate school, I was violently assaulted by my dissertation advisor at a prestigious and well-known MidWestern University, whom I managed to wrestle off of me. This occurred in my apartment, where he was visiting to assess my internship. It had not been my bidea to have him stay with me, but again he insisted. After the assault, I fled and stayed away from the apartment until he left. He continued to comfortablt stay there for three more days.
However, he never spoke to me again and I was left to find another advisor and to be rejected for many tenure track positions after he had written a letter defiling my character as “resistant, unfriendly and even hostile.” He came very close to ruining my career and even then I told only intimates and not the Dept. Chair, for fear of reprisal or being disbelieved.
In my first years as an academic, I said “no” to several men and one or two pretty aggressive women. Of course, I tried to do it indirectly and subtly, but that is not so easy and I was left to fend for myself in many difficult cases where I might have had support. I guess I was unfriendly.
Of course, many student had been trained in this method of getting A’s and also had to be refused. I do not mean to imply that I am an isolated, inexperienced person. In fact, I have had one marriage and several other satisfying relationships. However, my career trajectory and personal life are certainly not what they might have been without this sense of entitlement and without later on, finding several kind and generous feminist mentors.
I’m just saying that the time is long overdue for this power arrangement to be replaced in 21 century society. I am also saying that boys and men have to be taught that they are not entitled to another person’s body or even to make unsolicited comments about it. Fiinaly, I am saying, ME TOO for myself and for all of you who have and have not written to me to say the same, forall of you who have told no one but me. Many of us have accomplished incredible things, but what would have been possible had we been free?